The neighborhood activation project enters its first phase

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When 20th century anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever existed,” she probably had people like Ricardo O’Neal II and his Neighborhood Activation Project cohorts in mind.

NAP is a community engagement initiative created to help business owners and residents repair residential and commercial structures in Black and Brown neighborhoods in the City of Grand Rapids. The first phase of the project begins on Saturday August 27.

NAP is looking for volunteers and workers to help beautify the neighborhood and do major repairs to homes and businesses.

“We want to hire service workers who are black and brown to help with this beautification project and help activate these neighborhoods and give them a stipend,” said O’Neal, project strategist.

According O’Neal, Grand Rapids’ black population has the lowest median annual income at $25,458 and the highest unemployment rate at 18.1%.

With these “hard truths in mind,” O’Neal said, NAP is looking for people who can lend a hand with painting, landscaping, home repairs and facade restoration in areas of the city that need it the most.

Three distinct street corners in the southeast quadrant of the city were targeted for improvements: Madison Avenue and Hall Street; Oakdale Street and Eastern Avenue; and Burton Street and Eastern Avenue.

Homes and businesses in need of repair that are near the targeted areas will be identified.

“Right now we’re focusing on social capital,” said O’Neal, who was able to garner support from organizations including, but not limited to, Linc Up, Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, Building Bridges, West Michigan Environmental Action Council and City of Grand Rapids Southtown Corridor Improvement Authority.

“Everyone we sat down with said we needed it,” O’Neal said.

Collectively we can do this together and keep doing it until the black and brown areas look the way they are supposed to look. We won’t be (done) until these communities are like other communities.

O’Neal, who describes himself as a ‘downtown minority guy’ and a ‘brand builder’, is helping to create a new app that helps connect people to spaces that fit best to their personality. The app’s tagline is “Find your vibe, find your tribe,” perhaps also a fitting motto for its community project.

Anyone interested in volunteering can drop by between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, August 27 at Linc Up, 1167 Madison Ave. SE. Phase two of the project is scheduled for the weekend of September 9-10.

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